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Sandy Alderson Talks Bourn, Upton, Mets Spring Training

The Mets' GM talked with Mike Francesa about spring training, the outfield, Michael Bourn, Justin Upton, Scott Hairston, the team's pitching depth, the we'll-see-what-happens bullpen, Travis d'Arnaud, and what would make for a successful season.

Chris McShane

Mets GM Sandy Alderson was on WFAN with Mike Francesa Wednesday afternoon to talk about spring training and what he hopes to see out of the players in camp. You can download the audio here.

If you don't have time for the whole thing, I've included the highlights below. The full transcript follows afterward.

  • Now that Michael Bourn has signed with the Indians, the list of free agent outfielders the Mets might have considered this offseason has been “exhausted.” There might be other options as spring training unfolds, but right now the Mets are pressing onward with their present outfielders.
  • Lucas Duda is the projected starter in left field.
  • Kirk Nieuwenhuis is the likely starter in center field, with Colin Cowgill and others getting some playing time as well.
  • If John Buck is injured during spring training (e.g.), Travis d’Arnaud could conceivably break camp with the team as their starting catcher. However, it’s unlikely he’d make the team as a backup.
  • Zack Wheeler will probably start the year in Triple-A, barring certain injury scenarios involving the projected starting rotation.
  • Matt Harvey could throw 200 innings or so this season and the Mets wouldn’t be terribly concerned about it.
  • The Mets were interested in bringing Scott Hairston back, but they held out hope that the Diamondbacks would lower their asking price for Justin Upton, and an acquisition of Upton would mean far less playing time than Hairston would have wanted.
  • It was frustrating not to land a bigger-name outfielder like Michael Bourn or Upton. One or two players like that could have bridged the gap between “decent” and “playoff contender.”
  • The draft pick was a concern, but ultimately the Mets refused to offer a fifth year — or a vesting option for a fifth year — to Bourn.
  • Money quote: “Do we have the right pieces in the bullpen now? I have no idea.”
  • Alderson likes the Mets’ organizational pitching depth, but acknowledges that there’s not much in the way of near-ready position-player talent.
  • He thinks the Mets could realistically win more games than they lose this year, even with, as Francesa called it, “a bad major league outfield.”
  • A winning season paired with a lack of development from Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Travis d’Arnaud would be a big disappointment.

Mike Francesa: Right now we’ll get to the State of the Mets with the boss, with Sandy Alderson who joins us now. Sandy, welcome, how are you?

Sandy Alderson: I’m fine Mike, thanks.

Francesa: All right. Now that Bourn has gone to Cleveland, I guess it would be fair to say it has, for at least the time being, exhausted your ability to bring anybody else in from the outside and it’s status quo. Is that fair?

Alderson: Yeah that’s fair to say. I think that we’ve certainly gone through the list of free agents with which we started the offseason, so that’s exhausted. Of course, other possibilities may open up as spring training develops and there’s always trade possibilities. But right now we’re moving ahead with what we have.

Francesa: How do you feel right now about the outfield contingent that you have in camp?

Alderson: Well, I’d like to feel a little better about it. We’ve got a lot of unproven players who are all hoping to take advantage of an opportunity and we have to believe that one or more of them will step up and take advantage of that opportunity. But in an ideal world we’d have a little more experience, perhaps a little more major league talent on paper. But we have what we have and we’re prepared to move ahead with it.

Francesa: All right. You’re going to Duda a full shot in left field right? Give him a chance to win an everyday job in left field right?

Alderson: Yeah absolutely. Yup.

Francesa: All right, and what it is your best case scenario right now Sandy in center field?

Alderson: Well, we’ve got Niewenhuis who is coming back off an injury but had a nice first half of the season last year. We’ll see if he can build on that. Hopefully that’s more reflective of his ability than the second half before he was injured. We’ve got Colin Cowgill, who’s a right-handed hitter we think can compete for some time there or in right field. But I’d say that Niewenhuis is probably the leading candidate. We’ve got Matt den Dekker we like who has not played above Triple-A, but there will be a number of guys who will get playing time in both center and right.

Francesa: And Byrd’s a guy who I think is an interesting candidate because if he can get back to where he was say two years ago, I mean he’d probably be better than anybody else out there I would think.

Alderson: Yeah, we’ll see. He did play winter ball in Mexico, and when he comes into camp we’ll just have to evaluate him. He’s one of those low risk, possibly high reward type players that we’ll have in camp and we’ll just see what he’s able to do.

Francesa: And do you feel there’s a decent chance that somebody could find the numbers game not to his liking in some camp and give you a chance to bring somebody else in? Would you consider that a fair possibility?

Alderson: I think it’s a possibility, but Mike I don’t want to get into a situation where we’re constantly talking about other opportunities or other people that we may bring in to camp. What we have is what we have. I think that’s what we can count on. Any team is always looking to improve areas of weakness. We will be in the same mode, but at this point we have the players that we have and we’ve got to make that work.

Francesa: And the strength of the team, obviously, we can talk infield and we can talk starting pitching, especially with Marcum. Marcum, Gee, Niese, if Santana’s healthy, and Harvey is a pretty nice starting rotation if everybody’s healthy.

Alderson: Yeah, we like the rotation, the five that we have. There are going to be questions about injury, but that is true almost every year with almost every rotation that opens the regular season. We had a lot of success in 2011 pitching most of our guys most of the way. Not so much success in that regard, we just had to use more starting pitchers, go in to our depth more in 2012. But if we can keep everybody healthy, which is true of any team, then we like our five. And I think we like the additional depth that we’re beginning to build as well beyond the top five, so everybody talks about Wheeler, but we’ve got a number of possibilities, Jenrry Mejia, and so forth. So below that five we have a little more depth this year than we’ve had in the past.

Francesa: Wheeler and d’Arnaud are obviously going to be very big topics all spring. As I asked Terry yesterday I’ll ask you: Is there any chance, is it at least open to discussion, that if they knock people’s socks off in spring, they could come north with the big club or is that something you don’t even want to put in people’s heads?

Alderson: No, I think that it’s a possibility in both cases, but I think it’s, not a long shot, but I don’t think it’s a probability. But take for example the catching situation. If something were to happen to John Buck, then I think it’s very possible that Travis d’Arnaud could be with us regardless of how great a spring he has had.

Francesa: Right.

Alderson: So I think that situation may be a little bit different.

Francesa: He can’t come as the backup catcher He has to come as the starting catcher.

Alderson: Yeah I don’t think that we want him in a backup role.

Francesa: Yeah that makes sense, obviously. So he’s got to win the job, and how about Wheeler?

Alderson: Wheeler I think is maybe in a little different category. There’s still room for him to develop at the Triple-A level. If he has a great spring and we have an injury to one of our other five then we get further down in our depth chart and then it becomes a question for us. But we don’t want to rush him. Harvey had a nice spring until really at the end. Had a couple of rough outings last spring. Benefited tremendously from going to Buffalo. But I don’t want to consign Zack Wheeler to Las Vegas, but that’s the likelihood at this point.

Francesa: Forget injuries, as far as there’s no restrictions on Harvey. If he goes 200 innings that’s fine right?

Alderson: Yeah, he went around 160–165 last year, and if we add 30–40 on to that he’s in the 200 range. So there shouldn’t be any restriction on him. Is it conceivable that if we got into the postseason that we’d be concerned about it? Yes.

Francesa: You worry about that when it happens.

Alderson: Yeah, we’ll worry about that at that time.

"Do we have the right pieces in the bullpen now? I have no idea." —Sandy Alderson

Francesa: When we shift to the bullpen Sandy, which to me is a year to year thing for anybody building a team. It really is. You’re going to have a couple of mainstays. You hope you have a great closer. But you’re going to have guys who have good years and guys who have bad years and pick up guys who had bad years and hope they have good years for you. That’s the way bullpens are built. With that being the case, yesterday Terry said that Parnell is going to be the closer right now. He kind of handed him the job yesterday. How do you feel about the depth and the makings of your overall bullpen right now?

Alderson: Well, I like the depth that we have. If it turns out that Franky isn’t able to open up the season, and we don’t know that at this point, but I think in Terry’s case he had to sort of an make an operating assumption. If we don’t have Franky to open the season then the depth we have obviously gets a little thinner. But it’s really about, at that point, not so much our depth, but actually having someone who can close the game. Is that Bobby? Bobby’s done it. Brandon Lyon has done it. We’ve got a couple of people that have done it. But overall, I like the depth. I like the flexibility that we have. We’ve just been looking at some of the numbers. Just on the left side, if you think about guys like [Josh] Edgin, [Robert] Carson, [Scott] Rice, we’ve got [Pedro] Feliciano back, [Aaron] Laffey from the left side. We’ve got more depth on the left side than we’ve ever had. And not just depth, but legitimate candidates. Edgin pitched pretty well for us last year. Carson did a nice job, especially later. But we like some of the other people we picked up. Pedro Feliciano of course, if he’s healthy could be a nice lefty specialist.

Francesa: Is there a young arm that fans might not know a lot about who you’re looking at that you’d like to see make a splash this spring in the bullpen?

Alderson: In the bullpen? Well, everybody knows Edgin and had a chance to see Carson last year. We brought in Scott Rice who’s a possibility. I think that if there’s anybody from outside that our fans may not know particularly well if would be a guy like Burke, who is a side arm specialist.

Francesa: Right. A Bradford type right?

Alderson: Yeah and he has had some success with that over the last year and a half or so. We signed him to a minor league contract. We put him on the roster before the Rule 5 draft because of our concern that he might be taken, and pitched well in winter ball, and we’ll see. But he would be a nice piece and different look for us.

Francesa: How about the bench? No Hairston. How about Hairston? He didn’t get a lot of money. What was your thought process with Hairston?

Alderson: Well with Scott, unfortunately, maybe our eyes were bigger than they should’ve been. At the time, we were talking to Scott. There were some other possibilities out there that we didn’t want to be foreclosed from and I know some of our fans say, oh, you never had a chance to do this or a chance to do that. But as long as there’s a possibility for us, then we’re going to play it out. For example, with the Justin Upton trade to Atlanta. We weren’t prepared to trade Wheeler or Harvey, but you never know what a team is willing to do after a period of time they’ve surveyed the market. So we kind of held out the possibility, well gee, maybe we will be able to work something out with other players in our system. And unfortunately, Hairston signed I think the night before Upton was traded. Had it happened the other way around, then we might have been back in on Scott. But had we made a trade like that we couldn’t guarantee him the playing time that he was looking for.

Francesa: He’s kind of a casualty of you trying to upgrade the outfield.

Alderson: Yeah, I think that’s better put than I did.

Francesa: That happens, I can understand that. Now though, you need some good depth off that bench, especially with the type of team you have. That’s always very important in the National League. Do you feel comfortable you have the makings of a bench in camp?

Alderson: I think it depends on how camp goes. The nice thing about bench players is that they’re not front-line players and they may be more readily available by trade. So we brought in a number of guys who we like and we just have to see how they fit together. It really is going to depend on who nails down a starting position particularly in the outfield and who doesn’t. But bench-wise, in terms of, say, the catching position, we like the alternatives that we have. Let’s see what [Anthony] Recker can do. We’ve got a couple of others that are behind Buck and d’Arnaud. Infield-wise, [Omar] Quintanilla is back as a possibility. So we’ve got the makings of a legitimate bench, and I think that we just have to see how the pieces fit together over the next four or five weeks.

Francesa: We talked a couple times. You put it at 50/50 the ability to upgrade dramatically, especially in the outfield where there was the greatest need. It didn’t happen. Are you frustrated that you did not get maybe that player, that one player you were searching for? Are you okay with this team as you go forward? Or are you a little frustrated you didn’t land that extra piece in the outfield?

Alderson: Yeah, I’m a little frustrated. Yeah. We wanted that extra piece. We wanted that piece that would bridge us from where we are to we think we’re going to be in short order. Somebody who would’ve helped us in ‘13 and was still going to be able to help us in ‘14 or ‘15. I’ve said that I don’t think we’re that far away. With a couple of pieces, let’s say in the outfield or what have you, given what else we have coming, I’ve said I don’t think we’re that far away. So when you miss out on one like that or come close on one, it’s a little bit frustrating. But the thing that I take some solace in is that we’re in on those things. At some point, it’s got to happen. I’m not suggesting where there’s smoke and no fire people get frustrated. Me too.

Francesa: Right. The Bourn thing, it came down to the pick more than anything else right? I don’t know if it was the fifth year or not, I don’t know that. Was it more the fifth year or was it more the pick that became the determining factor?

Alderson: Well, I think the fifth year was the determining factor Mike, simply because until we got to a resolution on the contract we weren’t going to have to address the pick.

Francesa: Right.

Alderson: There’s no question that we didn’t want to go to a fifth year. We didn’t want to go to a vesting option that was tantamount to a fifth year. But also, I think the tenor of our discussions with MLB on the draft pick changed dramatically from the beginning of this journey to the end, which was too bad. But it was also a factor.

Francesa: And he obviously would’ve fit well but I understand. Can you, for the fans, Sandy, see your plan starting to take shape with the people who are now becoming main cogs on this team? Can you say now that you can see some of the pieces that you envision being big parts of your future are now in place?

Alderson: Yeah, I can. Absolutely, sort of unequivocally. Look at the starting rotation, look at the potential that we have. I think our pitching across the board, starting rotation, bullpen, the talent that we have in our system. Yes, we’re getting there. Do we have the right pieces in the bullpen now? I have no idea.

Francesa: Right.

Alderson: We’re going to find out. All of these guys right now that we have in the pen, just as an example, there’s not one guy in that pen who’s on more than a one-year contract. We’re down to the second year on Francisco. Everybody else in the last year, and everyone else is a one. So we may have some answers in there this year who may not even be there next year. But we’ve got lots of flexibility, we’ve got lots of depth, and we’ve got a lot of young pitching talent coming. So I think that’s very definitely evident.

Catching-wise, I think we’re more optimistic about our catching now, and maybe that’s putting all of our confidence in the future in Travis d’Arnaud. But I think our outlook at the catching position is as good as it’s been in recent years. The infield? Again, I think it’s pretty solid and controllable. We’ve got a very solid infield and they’re not going anywhere. They’re either young or they’re under a multi-year contract, and they’re very competitive with infields across the league.

Outfield-wise, that’s the question mark for us. But when you boil it down to two or three positions and they’re all in the outfield, it’s a lot more manageable. So, whereas the pitching, the infield, and catching I think you can see manifestations of what we’ve been trying to do. The outfield is still problematic and it’s still something we have to deal with, but it’s not like we’re dealing with every aspect of the team at this point. We’ve made dramatic improvement in certain areas and I’m very happy with that.

Francesa: So you feel you’ve set the foundation and now are moving north with this team. You feel like the worst days of what you were looking to get done are done. You feel the foundation and the bottom has been set for this team. You’re moving north now right? You feel like the worst days are behind you.

Alderson: Yeah.

Francesa: Look. When you took this job, and I don’t know if you looked at it this way. Maybe your guys did. Did you think that we will get the turnaround in ‘12, we will get the turnaround in ‘13? Did you guys pinpoint where you thought the turnaround would come?

Alderson: I don’t think you could ever do that with any specificity. You try to say, okay, if certain things go well. One of the indicators might have been just what contracts do we have and when do they expire?

Francesa: Well you knew when you were going to be out of contracts. You knew in ‘14 you were out of all the contracts. So now you’re in to the end of that, and in ‘14 you’re out of all the contracts, so you know that. So ‘14, was that always what you were pointing to?

Alderson: I can’t say Mike there was any one year we were pointing to. I don’t operate that way.

Francesa: Okay, so you were going to try to build it on-the-fly and as it came, it went. That’s basically it, right? So if it got better quicker, good for you. But was there ever a point where there was a target? Or was there never really a target?

Alderson: I wouldn’t say there was ever a chronological target.

Francesa: Okay.

Alderson: Nor is there now. Obviously, we say to ourselves, okay, we know what our situation will be in ‘13. We know what potential changes, improvements in our situation will take place going into ‘14. We know the money coming off. So there are things certainly that we can point to. But it’s really more of a qualitative approach and trying to check things off a list and trying to get better in this area and trying to do this and trying to do that as opposed to fixing a date. On the other hand, okay, we’re two years in. ‘13, ‘14, again, based on not so much the time invested but based on where we are with our catching, where we are with our pitching, where we are with the infield, where we are with the outfield. We’re getting there.

Francesa: Has it been a process that’s been different than you thought? Has it been slower? Has it been what you expected?

Alderson: Well, when I came in, you couldn’t really foresee what kind of productivity we were going to get. Obviously Santana was hurt, so there was a question of when he was going to come back and you couldn’t really accurately predict that but we could make some assumptions. I think we always assumed Jason Bay would come back and be somewhat productive. Didn’t happen. So I don’t think coming in you can really fully assess everything on Day One because things happen after Day One and you have to adjust accordingly.

Francesa: We see the major league. We see Harvey, we see Wheeler. We now know d’Arnaud is here. We can see we have Wright, you have Ike, you can see the building blocks, they’re clear. Niese. You can see the guys who are the building blocks.

Alderson: Yeah.

Francesa: The things we don’t see. Is your system below that where you wanted it to be? Are you happy with your progress underneath in the layers that’ll produce in the next three, four, five years? Are you happy with your progress there?

Alderson: Yeah, I think we’re happy with the progress. I’m not thrilled with the progress. Our three top prospects who are guys we’ve acquired from somebody else.

Francesa: Right. That says something, too.

Alderson: So we like them because they’re not just our top three prospects. They’re among the top prospects in the game.

Francesa: Right. They’re top players.

Alderson: Right, but at the same time, we need to see the improvement from our own drafts, our own international signings, and I think that we’re beginning to see that. If you look at our top 10 prospects or so, and it depends which list you look at, the majority of them were acquired in some fashion in 2011 or later. So we got the three acquisitions, those all came in ‘11 or ‘12. We’ve got several Latin players who’ve come in a hurry who were signed in 2011. I think Luis Mateo was signed in ‘11. Rafael Montero may have been in 2011.

Then we’ve got some other guys like Michael Fulmer and [Cory] Mazzoni and so forth. So a lot of our top prospects have been signed in recent years and are just not as close as some others. So all that good pitching that we have that everyone heard about from Brooklyn and what have you, they’re not going to be in Flushing in 2013. Now we’ve got a couple of them that are in camp this year. Montero, Mazzoni, and [Hansel] Robles. Montero pitched at Savannah and Post St. Lucie, so Robles was the only one at Brooklyn. But yeah, we have a depth in our system particularly with pitching. One of the reasons our system gets dinged, and fairly so I guess, is that we don’t have a lot of position players that are that close.

Francesa: Which has always been a Met problem for some reason. I don’t know why it’s always been an organizational thing going back 40 years.

Alderson: The last two first round picks we’ve taken were both position players, but they were both high school kids, and [Gavin] Cecchini played over his head last year at Kingsport. So we’ve got to recognize that that’s not a strength of our system. But that’s why it’s important to have improved and solidified other aspects of the team so when you get down to it you’re filling a particular need but you don’t have needs across the board. If we have the strength of the pitching, if you’re going to argue that you’re going to have a strength anywhere, it ought to be the pitching.

Francesa: Oh yeah, absolutely.

Alderson: It’s hard to get, it’s hard to keep. It’s costly.

Francesa: It’s very expensive, too, absolutely. Yeah, you’ve got to have starting pitching, no question.

Alderson: So from that standpoint, I’m thrilled that we’ve got as much pitching depth as we have.

Francesa: Do you feel that you know, Sandy, what Wheeler and Harvey are? Do you feel now confident enough that they are the real thing? Do you feel ready, confident that they’re the real thing?

Alderson: I’m confident that they’re the real thing. The question is: What constitutes the real thing? These guys are going to be major league pitchers and they’re going to be major league pitchers, absent injury, for a long time. The question is what is their upside? Is Matt Harvey a #1 or #2? Or is he going to be a #3? Does he have the potential to be a #1 or #2? Yes.

Francesa: We just haven’t tested their toughness and their heart yet.

Alderson: We’re not going to know.

Francesa: But you think talent-wise, you can tell that already those guys are the real deal.

Alderson: Well, it’s not even me. One of the things I rely on somewhat is consensus. The consensus of the crowd.

Francesa: Right.

Alderson: I don’t know if I’m smarter than anybody else or we’ve got scouts smarter than the next group of scouts. So there is some solace in consensus and everybody that sees these guys sort of concludes the same thing. So I’m confident that we’ve got some quality talent in those two pitchers and we’ll see where it takes them.

Francesa: What would make this a bad year in your mind? I think I know what a good year would be. What would make this a bad year? The expectations aren’t very high. I think most people won’t think in that division this is a winning team, especially with that looking outfield. What would make this a bad year in your mind?

Alderson: Well, we’re not going to be happy unless we have a winning season.

Francesa: So you expect to have a winning season this year.

Alderson: We’re not going to be happy if we don’t have a winning season.

Francesa: You’re not going to be happy.

Alderson: But here’s the other thing that we have to take into account.

Francesa: Right.

Alderson: It’s important for us, and I’m not saying more important than winning games, but it’s very important for us that we see a continued development of the players at the major league level and at the minor league level.

Francesa: Right.

Alderson: On whom we’re counting over the next several years.

Francesa: Especially Harvey, Wheeler, and d’Arnaud.

Alderson: So if we had a winning season. Let’s say we win 87–88 games.

Francesa: Right.

Alderson: And the two or three guys you talk about fade.

Francesa: Right.

Alderson: Is that a good season?

Francesa: That’s not for you.

Alderson: That’s my point.

Francesa: Well, that’s why I asked. That was my question. Is it more important to develop those guys than it is to win this year?

Alderson: Well, I think both things are important for us.

Francesa: Okay. But you want to win and win the right way. You want to win and have your guys develop is what you’re looking for.

Alderson: We want to win and we want to set the foundation for winning over and over again in the future.

Francesa: Gotcha. Do you think, and I think this is a very fair question. Do you think you can have a winning team with that outfield?

Alderson: Yes.

Francesa: You do?

Alderson: But the starting pitching has got to be great. The infield has got to produce offensively and play well defensively. We’ve got to get more production out of our catching spot. So, yeah, the short answer is yes.

Francesa: Realistically? Or is that with everybody playing out of their minds?

Alderson: No, I think that’s realistic.

Francesa: That’s a bad looking major league outfield. I’m not trying to knock people, but that’s a bad major league outfield.

Alderson: Mike, let me ask you this question.

Francesa: Yeah.

Alderson: What did our outfield look like last year?

Francesa: Right, but you know what? You guys got off to a fast start, but by the second half you were a dreadful club.

Alderson: evil laugh

Francesa: You got a lot of good hits. You only won 74 games.

Alderson: My only point is that I’m not happy with what we were able to do or not able to do with the outfield and I take total responsibility for that. But at the same time, I’m not sure that what we have currently is a significant downgrade from what we had last year. That’s not a compliment by any means.

Francesa: I understand.

Alderson: But I think there’s been a lot of focus on the outfield, and in some ways it’s detracted from a more fair appraisal of what we have elsewhere.

Francesa: Well, you added some pop at catcher, which we’ll give you. The infield is pretty much the same. Ike, I think, can give you a little more. Wright’s obviously a wonderful player. Tejada, Murphy, you’re not going to get a lot of home runs there. Duda, I don’t know. I don’t know if he’s going to hit 15 or hit 25. I have no idea. I don’t know if he’s going to play every day. I have no idea. But the other guys, you need an upgrade. If you want to win you need an upgrade. It’s a tough division.

Alderson: Yeah, it’s a tough division. No question about that.

Francesa: So, the state of the union is? Optimistic?

Alderson: Optimistic. Excited to see what we have here over the next three or four weeks, especially among the pitchers, the catching. See if guys like Ike can take the next step, and we’ll work through the outfield.

Francesa: Appreciate your time. Thank you, Sandy, we’ll talk soon. Thank you.

We're considerably grateful to Zack Arenstein for transcribing this interview on short notice and with astonishing accuracy and grace.